Green tea leaves brewing. Wikipedia Commons

Tea (Camellia sinensis) is, perhaps, my favorite drink. By it, I mean real tea. Not the fannings passed off as tea in the common, everyday grocery store (with a very few exceptions). A girlfriend of mine, who claims she is now a tea snob, got me thinking about the subject–the types, their health benefits, and how it brings people together or soothes the drinker. So let’s take a moment and study tea.

 

First, we’ll look at the types of tea. These mostly vary by how they are processed rather than the plants used, though this also plays a factor. Flavor also depends on where tea leaves are grown and for how long they are steeped.

 

  • White: young, least processed (wilted but unoxidized) tea leaves with very little caffeine (compared to a cup of coffee) and light flavors.
  • Green: the most popular choice of drink, and sometimes mixed with fruit or flowers for added flavor, these unprocessed (unwilted, unoxidized) leaves have only 5-10% caffeine and go well with any meal.
  • Oolong: also known as wu long, this tea is bruised, wilted, and partially oxidized (semi-fermented) to give it a full, aromatic flavor; it contains around 15% caffeine content.
  • Black: wilted, sometimes crushed, and fully oxidized (fermented), this tea is most recognized in the West and contains about 20% of the caffeine in a typical cup of coffee.
  • Post-fermented: teas “aged” in the open air for several months to years, altering the smell and taste of the tea and leaving pleasant “mouthfeels” and aftertastes.
  • Herbal: contains no leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant and is sometimes referred to as a tisane, and are usually broken down into categories–rooibos, mate, and herbal infusions.
  • Rooibos: “red tea” made from the South African red bush, it is naturally caffeine free and has delicious flavor.

    Rooibos plant. Wikipedia Commons

  • Mate: considered the coffee lover’s favorite, it is made from the yerba plant; it gives the drinker the same amount of energy as coffee without any negative side effects (i.e. “jitters”) and also tastes like a good old-fashioned cup of Joe.

 

There are also blended teas, which combine the best of both worlds by mixing herbal with tea, or black with green, or so on. The choices are virtually limitless. So, too, it seems the benefits of drinking tea, which have been known about for thousands of years. Mondal, 2007, writes:

 

Tea leaves contain more than 700 chemicals, among which the compounds closely related to human health are flavanoids, amino acids, vitamins (C, E and K), caffeine and polysaccharides. Moreover, tea drinking has recently proven to be associated with cell-mediated immune function of the human body. Tea plays an important role in improving beneficial intestinal microflora, as well as providing immunity against intestinal disorders and in protecting cell membranes from oxidative damage. Tea also prevents dental caries due to the presence of fluorine. The role of tea is well established in normalizing blood pressure, lipid depressing activity, prevention of coronary heart diseases and diabetes by reducing the blood-glucose activity. Tea also possesses germicidal and germistatic activities against various gram-positive and gram-negative human pathogenic bacteria. Both green and black tea infusions contain a number of antioxidants, mainly catechins that have anti-carcinogenic, anti-mutagenic and anti-tumoric properties. (Wikipedia)

A 2010 study also suggested that tea may play a role in slowing cognitive decline. Furthermore, there are claims that tea improves skin and skin tone, helps one lose weight by curbing appetite, and promotes digestion and a healthy immune system.

Once you’ve picked your tea, one then must decide whether loose leaf or bagged tea suits you. I personally prefer loose leaf teas, and buy little tea bags into which I scoop a teaspoon or two at a time. Also, if you are new to the world of tea, realize that good quality teas can be used more than once. In fact, Asians believe that oolongs should be steeped at least 5 times as they change in flavor with each consecutively longer brew.

If and when possible, try to buy organic, fair-trade teas. Many harvesters are paid below the living wage and face hard working conditions in developing countries. Therefore, look for teas that are certified by schemes like Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, UTZ Certified, and Organic. (Look for these on other crops, like coffee and cocoa, too.) You may also go into a local tea shop and talk with the store clerks. Many times, shops promote fairtrade ideals.

Most of all, however, take the time out for yourself, or with some friends, to enjoy a cup or a pot of tea. Tea brings happiness. It brings people together. Over cups of tea, I have enjoyed some of the best conversation–and tea goodies! Tea helps the time to pass. For me, it fades away and leaves me wondered what happened to my day.

Tea plantation in Indonesia. Wikipedia Commons.

Here is an updated list of the fruits and vegetables that comprise the Dirty Dozen (those that have the highest pesticide residues according to the USDA) and Clean Fifteen (those that have the lowest residues). As suggested in the blog, use them to help you determine when and how to buy or grow organically. Also, an opinion about genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

***

Recently, my mom had a minor surgery. She’s been suffering from low levels of energy, which we attributed to the surgery because she’s overdone it a few times and worn herself out. No matter what she did, however–drinking much water and sleeping away gobs of time–she was not seeing an increase in her energy levels. Thankfully, at her last doctor’s visit, they tested her vitamin levels. Lo and behold, she’s deficient in several areas, particularly vitamin B12.

According to the American Council on Exercise, vitamins “are organic, noncaloric micronutrients that are essential for normal physiological function. [They] must be consumed through foods, with only three exceptions: vitamin K and biotin, which can be produced by normal intestinal flora (bacteria that

Seafood. Wikipedia.

live in the intestines and are critical for normal gastrointestinal function), and vitamin D, which can be self-produced with sun exposure.” (ACE Lifestyle and Weight Management Consultant Manual, p. 143) Some foods also contain provitamins, inactive vitamins that enzymes convert into the active forms our bodies need.

There are 13 vitamins essential to physiological function: water-soluable (B vitamins and C) and fat-soluable (A, D, E, and K). There is also choline, nicknamed a “quasi-vitamin” because it can be produced within the body but also provides additional benefits through food consumption as it plays a critical role in neurotransmitter and platelet functions, and may prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Here is a chart on vitamins and where to find them in your diet. In general, men need slightly  more vitamins (and minerals) than women. Eating your vitamins promises a more thorough absorption of them into your system, rather than taking them by pills, which causes the body to have to convert them into useable forms before they are flushed out of your system (water-soluble) or stored in your fat cells (fat-soluble).

I also owe my mom an apology for misinforming her. Yes, green leafy veggies are important to gain B2, not B12. (Oops!) You’ll want to shovel down more meat, milk products, and seafood for an increased intake of that vitamin. My bad!

So, if you’ve found yourself feeling energy-less and blue, try increasing your consumption of vitamins! I know that this has worked for me. It will work for you. Remember, you do not have to overconsume anything if you are deficient. Eat regular, properly portioned, whole foods to increase your levels slowly, safely over time. (An example is the DASH Eating Plan.)

***

On a more solemn note, my mother-in-law also had surgery recently. She grew sick after a day of games with some girlfriends but, after three days of intense cramping, when the pain had ebbed, she still felt crappy. Amongst these feelings was a lack of energy. This went on for a few weeks until she took the advice of friends and family (and was tired of feeling yucky) and saw a doctor. They did blood work and found that she had elevated levels of the protein that indicated cancer. The sonogram showed no signs of growth; we are currently waiting for the biopsy results.

The lesson I mean to pass is this: sometimes we get so wrapped up in our busy lives that we disconnect from our bodies. We only get one body and we need to listen to it. If more people did, I believe there would be more early diagnoses for such devastating diseases like cancer. For, as my mom-in-law told me just yesterday, all the people she’s known will tell you the same thing: the thing they remember the most about the disease is how much pain it causes. Not emotional pain. Real, physical pain…and not from the treatment they receive.

She was lucky to have gotten ill. It made her take note of how she felt overall. However, she wonders about how long it would have taken her to notice if she had not been laid up for so long. Therefore, I leave you with this thought: awareness of our internal selves is just as important and awareness of the external life consuming our time. Be kind to the one vessel we get in life. Take note. It may save your own life.

More information on signs and symptoms of cancer here.

An excellent evaluation on the failed dietary recommendations of the last six decades (count them!), and  a reconfirmation of my personal beliefs that an overabundance of sugar and highly-processed foods is leading to a fat, lethargic, unhealthy world. (It isn’t just America anymore, folks.)

Avoiding Overtraining

March 15, 2012

In recent weeks I have begun feeling very tired at the end of the day. I keep to a pretty stringent routine for both my personal and professional lives. In the case of fitness, I try hard to get my own workout in instead of using my classes to keep me healthy. I firmly believe that my classes are to be dedicated to my students’ needs, not my own. Plus, I do not get the recommended amounts of cardiovascular (and maybe muscular) exercise that I need to maintain my health from my classes alone. I need time pumping bike pedals or walking up a stair master (my choice of machines of late); I have also added a dance class to my schedule, which is awesome. I love dancing!

 

Be that as it may, athletes, instructors, and those who work out religiously find that they may overtrain. We are incredibly driven by what we do, which for me is to help people help themselves, and that requires the maintenance of a fit image. Wikipedia defines overtraining as “a physical, behavioral, and emotional condition that occurs when the volume and intensity of an individual’s exercise exceeds their recovery capacity.”

 

Overtraining occurs more often in people who are simultaneously trying to exercise and maintain a limited food intake (i.e. training for a bodybuilding/fitness competition or dieting) though it does occur when other psychological stressors are present. Some of them include jet lag, ongoing illness, menstruation, and overwork.

 

Some warning signs that you may be overtraining include:

  • Persistent muscle soreness
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Reduced heart rate variability
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Increased incidence of injury
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Mental breakdown

 

There are several ways to combat this. For me, I will be taking a week-long break in April (minus teaching my classes). Others may choose to increase their calorie intake. Now I know the word “calorie” has gotten a bad rap in recent decades but the truth is that this is how your body gains and expends energy. If you do not take in enough fuel, your body begins to shut down. The more work and exercise you do, the harder it is for the body to heal itself on a limited diet. This is one reason why it is highly recommended that you work with a certified nutritionist and trainer when you are considering a strict diet combined with exercise for weight loss, competitive events, etc. Also, the longer you maintain a strict diet or intense training, the harder it becomes for the body to recuperate.

 

Your body needs downtime. It needs a resting period from time to time. When training its instructors, the American Council on Exercise recommends that the individual takes frequent “vacations” to maintain peak performance, readiness, and mental alertness. Teaching a class is a taxing, albeit rewarding, job. Teaching two or three per day is even more so.

 

I hope that you, like me, set time aside for the rest necessary to fitness performance. Such resting periods prevent strength plateaus and mental fog, and increase our ability to cope with heavy training schedules. They also enable us to get other things accomplished, things which we sometimes put off for the sake of our rigorous schedules! For me, I plan on having a good lie in and easy schedule (one lacking too much to do, unlike my current feelings when I look at the calendar). But whatever you do, smile and don’t feel guilty. You are not being lazy by taking time out for yourself. You are being responsible.

 

For more information on overtraining, see:

 

How to Avoid Overtraining While Bodybuilding

Overtraining 101

Weights + Pilates = Too Much?

Are you Overtraining?

ACE on Overtraining

 

Date palm clusters. Wikimedia Commons.

One of the things I gave up for the Lenten fast this year was sweets. For those of you who don’t know, I have a sweet tooth. Maybe sweet teeth. In other words, I really love sweets! But I want to discipline myself in that area of my life, which is part of the reason why I chose to give them up.

 

Meet my new friend: the date. Nicknamed the “Tree of Life”, a Muslim legend says that it was made from leftover dust after the creation of Adam. It was probably one of the first cultivated trees in history and has been grown in the Holy Land for at least 8,000 years. Directions for date-palm husbandry have been found on bricks in Mesopotamia from 5,000 years ago. The word “date” comes from the Greek, daktulos, meaning finger.

 

Each palm can grow 100 feet high and bears clusters of 200, each weighing upwards of 25 pounds. They are sweet, fleshy, and oblong, growing around an inch in length. They attain a rich burnished brown color while hanging on the tree.

 

Nutritionally, 70 percent of the weight of a date comes from sugar; it is among the sweetest of fruits. They are an unusual fruit, too, as they contain hardly any Vitamin C. However, they are low in fat and rich in potassium and supply some iron. In fact, they provide 260% more potassium than oranges and 64% more than a banana. Dates are an excellent source of fiber; B vitamins; minerals such as copper, manganese, and magnesium; folic acid; and the trace minerals zinc and selenium.

 

The health benefits are plenteous. They contain a special type of soluble fiber. Beta-D-glucan is shown to decrease the body’s absorption of cholesterol  and slow/delay absorption of glucose in the small intestine, balancing blood sugar levels. Because it also absorbs water, the fiber adds bulk and some softness to the stool, easing movement through the colon and elimination; it also slows transit through the intestinal tract. Slowing down gastric emptying promotes satiety longer and can aid in weight loss.

 

Moroccan Dates. Wikimedia Commons.

Studies suggest that dates are rich in antioxidants and anti-cancer properties. An extract may prevent free-radical damage to both fats and protein in a dose-dependent manner (i.e. the higher the dose, the more protection). In fact, in one experiment, the dates’ ability to protect against free-radical damage persisted in the presence of benzo(a)pyrene, a cancer-causing chemical.

 

While dates may be sold pitted, chew carefully. Some may also experience allergic reactions. Those who react to antigens from artemisia, birch, cultivated rye, Timothy grass, Sydney golden wattle, and Bermuda grass pollens may react with them, and are warned to be careful or avoid dates altogether.

 

Good-quality soft and semi-soft dates are smooth-skinned, glossy, plump, and can be wrinkled (not shriveled, cracked, dry, or broken). Dried dates should be significantly wrinkled but not rock hard. For an extended shelf life, place soft and semi-soft varieties in an airtight bag or container to protect them from airborne odors of other foods and insect pests. Stored in the refrigerator, they will keep up to 8 months; at room temperature, they keep a month or more. Dried dates, however, can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a year, or freezer for up to five years.

 

One of my favorite ways to eat dates is by slitting them down the middle, stuffing them with goat cheese and walnuts (optional), and drizzling honey over them. They are also excellent in hot cereals and can be substituted for raisins in breads, muffins, or cookies. I also eat them plain with a snack of cheese and crackers.

 

Sources:

1. Ingram, Christine. Cooking Ingredients: A Practical Guide to Choosing and Using World Foods. Hermes House, London, 2010; p. 388.

2. Murray, Michael, N.D.; Pizzorno, Joseph, N.D. with Pizzorno, Lara, M. A., L.M.T. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. Atria Books, New York, 2005; p. 271-274.

3. Margen, Sheldon, M. D., and the Editors of the U.C. Berkeley Wellness Letter. Wellness Foods A to Z: An Indepensable Guide for Health-Conscious Food Lovers. Rebus, New York, 2002; p. 271-272.

 

I hope you enjoy this video. I firmly believe in the power of positive thought.

As Spring Marches In

March 1, 2012

Pink Tulip. Wikipedia.

No joke! (Okay, well in a way…) The year is flying by and, according to meteorology, it’s already Spring. Sheesh! Where has time gone? For me, February flew by in the form of 7 classes and 92,000 words written on my current novel, not to mention gym time, time spent reading and studying languages, and of course time spent with my husband. To some, it may not sound like a full day but it is, and now it’s time for some rejuvenation.

 

Because its Spring, or it will be in 21-ish days.

 

I mean a three-fold rejuvenation when I use the term. Spring tends to be a time when we strive for better bodies–bikini season thoughts creep into some women’s minds, or if not that, thoughts on “the jiggle” concern them–and a cleaner and healthier homes; a better functioning mind–we’re reawakening after the dark days of Winter–and memory; and, for some, spiritual housekeeping.

 

I will touch on this last topic briefly. The reason why is simple: we focus so much on the others that our souls are often left underfed and parched. For me, I can tell when I need to spend more time cultivating my faith because I get angry, cranky, broody, and harbor a whole slew of darker emotions. I treat people badly. I’m more discontented. I hate how things beyond my control are done. Most often, this happens during the Winter, when I’m hibernating from the rest of the world–or trying to–or when life throws those unexpected curve balls that land in the middle of your stomach. Not pleasant.

 

Although one of my goals in life is to keep a daily reading of my Bible, I sometimes get lazy and slack off. We all do. The important thing to remember is this: our soul needs nourishment as much as our body does. Feed it however you must. There is evidence suggesting that people who practice a faith are more capable of handling the unexpected stresses that enter our lives than those who pursue no religion.

 

Then speaking of the body, here are a few ways to help your tried skin cells along. (I live in a desert at present and my skin is very tired.)

 

Cherry Blossoms at the Tokyo Imperial Palace. Wikipedia.

1. Sugar and olive oil scrub: combine 1/4 c. unrefined sugar and 2 Tbsp. olive oil and rub all over your body in the shower. Here are ideas for more scrubs.

2. Give yourself a spa treatment.

3. Drink more water. Winter tends to pull moisture from our skin much more quickly due to the cold, often dry, climate.

4. Eat more phytochemicals, chemical compounds that occur in plants naturally that give color and organoleptic properties (able to be experienced by the senses), that may have a biological significance but are not essential nutrients. You may have heard of the term “superfruit“. Although science is still trying to accurately define what makes a superfood, countless sources suggest that phytochemicals promote health in a plethora of ways. An old Ayurvedic philosophy states that food is medicine, and that we heal from the inside out.

5. Eat collagen. Ever heard of Jell-O? Yeah, kids love it and it’s a denaturalized form of collagen. I have made a personal challenge to myself and am trying GNC’s ResVitale Collagen Enhancing Skin-Revitalizing Fruit Chews to see if their claims are on target. (They’re gluten-free too!) The one downside I see at the moment is that evaporated cane juice is the first ingredient. Oh bother! Vitamins and supplements never did taste good without sugar. I will have to research other ways of ingesting their claims…

6. Sleep. I cannot speak enough on the benefits of a nap and a good night’s rest. Sleep allowed the body to heal itself, to rejuvenate from the inside out.

 

Then, of course, everyone has heard of the traditional Spring Cleaning. Not only does it unclutter your house, but I believe it also declutters your mind. In many ways, a home is a reflection of the person. I see countless friends on Facebook exclaim how much better they feel when they go through their homes and toss the trash. They liken it to weight coming off.

 

My mother-in-law recently did this and, in addition to finding four unopened bags of marshmallows, found ways of reusing old things that had been forgotten. Talk about ways to recycle! Sometimes you can remake your “trash” into treasures, even if they’re only treasures to you–oh! And I just used the three R’s in the recycle symbol 🙂

 

I hope you welcome Spring with open arms. Take the time to rejuvenate. It will help you prepare for the remainder of the year. Winter has come and gone (for many of us; what the weather decides to do is its business) and now it is time to March onward.